Why Tenth Graders who Read Catch-22 will Become a Lost Generation (A Satire)
One of the most accurate summaries of Joseph Heller’s Catch-22 is this: “The twitter version of Catch-22 goes like this. Yossarian could not escape flying missions because to claim it was driving him crazy was a purely rational argument. Therefore he was not crazy” (McClimens 8). This summary exceeds the 140-character limit for Twitter statuses by four characters and barely scratches the surface of the difficult-to-receive elements in Heller’s novel; so, of course, it is obvious that a much more in-depth explanation of the novel’s questionable material is necessary. The Twitter description of the novel exposes the insanity present in Heller’s work — and the insanity could possibly be received by young audiences if it alone was the only questionable material. Heller also makes a use of mocking religion and war — all throughout a very confusing chronological order — which deems his novel completely inappropriate for young audiences. Because of these elements, Joseph Heller’s Catch-22 is not an appropriate novel for tenth-grade honors students to read. The novel promotes questioning and disrespect — about war and God, in particular — and of insanity, which is present in Yossarian, the main character. While Catch-22 is a very popular novel in the canon of American literature, it is not appropriate for impressionable high school sophomores to read.
“Joseph Heller’s satirical war novel Catch-22 depicts the absurdity and inhumanity of warfare through the experiences of Yossarian, a bombardier pilot stationed in Pianosa (near Italy) in World War II” (“Catch 22”). This quote explains the ideology of Heller’s novel the best — Heller illustrates that war is absurd and inhuman, challenging the innate respect Americans have for war through the exploitation of a character who has no respect for war. Obviously, just because a person introduces a controversial ideology does not necessarily mean that the medium of the idea should be banned — but the quality of Heller’s writing is undeniable.
When he discusses the war, he says this about Yossarian and his group: “But there was no enthusiasm in Yossarian’s group. In Yossarian’s group there was only a mounting number of enlisted men and officers who found their way solemnly to Sergeant Towser several times a day to ask if the orders sending them home had come in” (Heller 24). He illustrates the dissonance between Yossarian and the other army men, those who actually appreciated the war, in a way that makes Yossarian eerily relatable: “Havermeyer was a lead bombardier who never missed. Yossarian was a lead bombardier who had been demoted because he no longer gave a damn whether he missed or not. He had decided to live forever or die in the attempt, and his only mission each time he went up was to come down alive” (Heller 27).
You see, Heller’s ideology is not what needs to be banned, because an idea alone is not likely to spark a revolution. The reason Heller’s book deserves to be banned is that Yossarian and his hatred of war is so relatable. If every high school sophomore read Catch-22, the generation of young readers would grow into a generation of Americans unwilling to protect America during her time of need. High school sophomores are just impressionable enough to have their minds completely changed by a single novel.
Heller does an awfully good job of challenging the opinions of war — but, surprisingly enough, his satirical approach to war is not the most threatening argument Heller makes in Catch-22. “Heller’s satire seems to be a more direct attack on religion. Yossarian, the anti-hero, cynically calls God ‘a colossal, immortal blunderer! When you consider the opportunity and power He had to really do a job, and then look at the stupid ugly little mess He made of it instead’ (p. 230)” (Crow). In a country whose citizens live their lives based on God’s Holy Word, Heller’s novel has absolutely no place.
Yossarian, who is obviously an atheist, challenges and mocks God several times throughout Heller’s story. “‘Isn’t He punishing me enough,’ Yossarian snorted resentfully. ‘You know, we mustn’t let Him get away with it. Oh no, we certainly mustn’t let Him get away scot-free for all the sorrow He’s caused us. Someday I’m going to make Him pay’” (Heller 201). American children are not capable of handling such a challenging approach to Christianity. Children must be able to form their faith systems without the influence of outside sources — it is completely reasonable to say that children should be limited to developing their Biblical beliefs with the help of the Bible and the Bible alone.
Atheists like Yossarian even caused some disruption in Heller’s world of Pianosa, when the chaplain made Colonel Cathcart aware of the religious status in the army — such as the chaplain’s friend, Yossarian: “Colonel Cathcart stopped in his tracks. ‘What atheists?’ he bellowed defensively, his whole manner changing in a flash to one of virtuous and belligerent denial. ‘There are no atheists in my outfit! Atheism is against the law, isn’t it?’” (Heller 216). The Colonel represents the minds of American children, who are certainly not stable enough to know that atheism is lawful. Perhaps this excerpt provides the most clarity regarding the novel’s threat to Christianity: “It was already some time since the chaplain had first begun wondering what everything was all about. Was there a God?” (Heller 302). Impressionable children should not be immersed in a backwards culture in which a figurehead of Christianity — a chaplain — questions his faith. Impressionable children would be very likely to follow Heller’s chaplain’s leadership; if tenth grade students were allowed to read Catch-22, it is very safe to say that Christianity would die with the generation born in 1997 and 1998.
Besides Joseph Heller’s obsession with challenging the concepts of war and religion, he also makes an unappreciated effort to show how insane Yossarian is. Impressionable high school children should not be immersed into Yossarian’s unstable way of thinking — especially considering that much of Catch-22 is written with a focus on Yossarian’s perspective.
Yossarian has an absurdly annoying habit of falling in love — clearly a habit derived from his insanity — and he never seems to fall in “love” the same way twice. This entire element of Yossarian’s character is completely inappropriate for impressionable children to read, because it would certainly confuse the correct definition of love, which is obviously between one man and one woman for a lifetime.
Yossarian once has a very human, normal experience with love: “His heart cracked, and he fell in love. He wondered if she would marry him” (Heller 177). All the genders are correct — a man is falling in love with a woman — and the man wants to have the woman in marriage. Yossarian appears to have the right kind of love, and he also appears to respect love. But when another of his love experiences is entirely sexual — “Yossarian loved her. She was a marvelous piece of ass who found him only fair” (Heller 74) — we understand that Yossarian has a very corrupted view of love. Even more corrupt is this experience: ‘“Yossarian was in love with the maid in the lime-colored panties because she seemed to be the only woman left he could make love to without falling in love with” (Heller 148). Yossarian categorizes many conflicting emotions — ranging from infatuation to his own horniness — with love. No tenth grader should read something that equates love to cheap sex. These impressionable children might be persuaded to disregard the education system’s emphasis on abstinence. Students may believe that they should engage in sexual activities because of Yossarian’s romanticism of the acts.
If all of these examples did not provide a large enough red flag for the novel Catch-22, this one is sure to deem the novel as inappropriate. “The first time Yossarian saw the chaplain he fell madly in love with him” (cite, page 1). This “love” could convince students that homosexuality is normal and acceptable, which is obviously not true in the slightest. If nothing else, this excerpt alone provides enough reason for the novel to be banned — the novel disagrees with the educational system’s approach to heteronormativity. The generation of tenth-graders who read Catch-22 would grow into an entirely homosexual population, and no one from their age group would ever be able to reproduce.
Catch-22 is obviously a very inappropriate book for impressionable children to read. Even the advanced sophomores — honors students — could not handle reading this novel. Yossarian’s insanity is much too much for them to handle. The disrespect for God and for war is entirely inappropriate. Catch-22 should be banned immediately.
Heller, Joseph. Catch-22: 50th Anniversary Edition. Kindle Edition. Simon & Schuster, 2010. 1-546. eBook.
McClimens, Alex. “Catch 22.” 12 2009: 8. Print.
"Catch-22." Novels for Students. 1. 2007.
Crow, Anne. “Unlikely heroes: Anne Crow focuses on two characters in Catch-22 and Captain Corelli’s Mandolin who become heroes in spite of the most unpromising beginnings.” The English Review 15.3 (2005): 24+. Gale Power Search. Web. 3 Dec. 2013.